BEIJING, Feb. 6 (AP) - China on Tuesday downplayed India's granting of refugee status to one of the most senior monks in Tibetan Buddhism, saying it had received assurances he won't campaign against Chinese rule in his Himalayan homeland.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi said India had pledged not to allow the 17th Karmapa Lama to engage in ``anti-China activities'' or be used by foreign groups critical of Chinese rule.

``We believe that the Indian side will honor its commitment,'' Sun said at a regular news conference.

Tibet's government in exile, headed by its spiritual and temporal leader, the Dalai Lama, announced Saturday that the 15-year-old Karmapa had been granted refugee status, allowing him to travel more freely in India.

The monk eluded guards at his monastery in Tibet in January 2000 and trekked for eight days across mountains to the Dalai Lama's base in India, dealing a major setback to Chinese attempts to control Tibet's Buddhist hierarchy.

The third-most powerful figure in Tibetan Buddhism, the Karmapa is the only one upon whom the Dalai Lama and the Chinese authorities have agreed and was being groomed by Communist leaders as a future alternative to the Dalai Lama.

Tibetan religious leaders are believed to be reincarnations of their predecessors identified by divine signs.

The assurances referred to by Sun appear to target the struggle for Tibetan self-determination led by the Dalai Lama, who accuses China of trying to eradicate Tibetan culture, language and religion through restrictions and mass migrations of Chinese from other parts of the country. China accuses the Dalai Lama of trying to split China and has rejected his calls for dialogue and Tibetan autonomy.

In a sign that Beijing was holding the door open for the Karmapa's return, Sun implied that China didn't consider him personally responsible for his flight. ``The Karmapa Lama is just a boy,'' Sun said.

China has ruled Tibet with an iron fist since occupying the region with troops in 1950. The Dalai Lama fled to India nine years later after an abortive uprising against Chinese rule. China claims Tibet has long been its territory, although Tibetan activists say the region was independent for large parts of its history.

China and India fought a brief but bloody war over their border in 1963, but have lately tried to improve relations. China's No. 2 leader, Li Peng, visited India last month.

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